Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Importance of Doing the Right Thing Even When It’s Not the Easy Thing

Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis gave Glen James a citation in Boston.

(Twenty-eighth Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on October 13, 2013 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read 2 Kings 5; 2 Timothy 2: 8-13; Luke 17: 11-19.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-eighth Sunday 2013]


It’s a story many of you are familiar with, I’m sure.  Here’s how Boston Globe columnist Peter Schworm told it in an article he wrote a couple of weeks ago:

Under the canopy at the T.J. Maxx store, Glen James sat among the shopping carts, shaded from the late-summer sun.  As shoppers bustled through the South Bay plaza Saturday, James proofread a letter, resting on the bag he brings with him when he panhandles.

As he read, James noticed a young man nearby, sitting on an overturned carriage.  He had a bag, too, a black backpack at his feet.  James went back to his letter.

When James looked up again, the man was gone.  But his bag was still there.

After a time, James went over to see what had been left behind.  Inside, he found $2,400 in cash and nearly $40,000 in travelers checks, along with a passport and personal papers.  For a homeless man who subsists on food stamps and spare change, it was a staggering sum, maybe even a chance at a new life.

But James, a slight, bespectacled man in his mid-50s who says he has been homeless for five years, said the thought of keeping the money never crossed his mind.

“Even if I were desperate for money, I would not have kept even a penny of the money found,” he said Monday in a handwritten statement.  “God has always very well looked after me.”

James immediately flagged down police, who in short order returned the bag to its owner, a student visiting Boston from China.  James, a man who lives in a homeless shelter and relies on charity for change to wash his clothes, had returned a small fortune without a second thought.


He did the right thing—which, for most people in his situation would not have been the easy thing to do.

But then again, Jesus never said that doing the right thing would be the easy thing! 

In today’s first reading we heard that Naaman, the Syrian army commander who was afflicted with leprosy, went to the Jordan River, jumped in seven times, and was cured.

He did that because the prophet Elisha had told him to.

But for Naaman that was not the easy thing to do, nor was it the pleasant thing to do.  In fact, when Elisha first instructed him on the matter, Naaman got really upset!  He wanted Elisha to cure him with some spectacular ritual, or by having him bathe in one of the great rivers of his native Syria, not in the lowly Jordan River.

But, as we heard a few moments ago, Naaman eventually did the right thing.

So did the leper in today’s gospel who returned to Jesus after he realized that our Lord had healed him of his leprosy.  And it seems like that was not the easy thing for him to do either.  I say that because it’s pretty clear from the way the story is written that this was a gradual healing.  It didn’t happen instantaneously.  It didn’t happen when these men were physically in the presence of Jesus; it occurred afterward.  The text says, “As they were going, they were cleansed.”

So how far had they gone before they came to the awareness that something great had happened to them?  How far had they journeyed away from Jesus before they knew that they had been healed?  Five miles? Ten miles?  Fifteen miles or more?

We don’t know exactly—but it was probably far enough to make it extremely inconvenient and difficult to go back. 

So nine of them didn’t bother.  Nine of them, apparently, didn’t even try.

We are all challenged every day to do the right things out of love for Jesus: to say “thank you” to people who help us; to forgive one another; to be patient; to be pure; to be truthful; to be charitable—and it’s often not easy!  Next weekend, Fr. Daniel McCaffrey will be here challenging couples to do the right thing in their marriages.

And sometimes we fail.  But the good news is that even if we fail and do the wrong thing in a given situation, we can still do the right thing in response to having done the wrong thing by repenting, and confessing (if necessary), and thus we can be restored to grace.  As St. Paul puts it in today’s second reading, “[Even] if we are unfaithful, he [Jesus] remains faithful.”

By the way, this is why Pope Francis said in an interview a few weeks ago that the “proclamation of the love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives.”  The secular press misinterpreted that to mean that the Holy Father was downplaying the importance of the commandments.  Wrong!  What the Pope was saying is that we need to focus on God’s love first whenever we discuss or consider the commandments, because God’s love is primary.  St. Paul says here that Jesus Christ always remains faithful, even when we don’t.  In other words, he always loves us (even when we’re in the state of mortal sin!).  But he loves us too much allow us to stay in the state of sin!  And so the perfect and faithful love of Jesus is always calling us to repentance, so that we can be restored to grace.

Doing the right thing by repenting brings the reward of forgiveness—and the reward of eternal life if we persevere in the state of grace.

Doing the right thing in other dimensions of life also brings a reward—in eternity, most definitely; but sometimes also here on this earth.

And that’s a great bonus whenever it happens.  Naaman’s reward, for example, was a physical healing.  He was cured of his leprosy.

As for Glen James, when his story became public a few weeks ago, a 27-year-old man from Virginia named Ethan Whittington (who’s never even been to Boston where James lives!) was inspired to do something.  He decided to start an online fund to help Mr. James get off the streets and get the medical help he needs for his chronic illness (he has Meniere’s Disease—an inner ear disorder).  Well, when I last checked it on Friday morning, the total raised from people all over the country was over $157,000!

A pretty nice earthly reward for doing the right thing.  He gave up a little more than $42,000, and he’ll end up with at least $157,000.

May Glen James’ story inspire us to do the right thing even when there’s no earthly reward attached—and especially when doing the right thing is not the easy thing.